In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
On The Beach
Sometime in 1960 I saw a film, which, although I did not realize it at the time, was to change my life. The film had been released late in 1959 and was based on a novel by Nevil Shute. It was called ‘On the Beach’ and dealt with the world after a Nuclear Holocaust.
The film came from a book by Nevil Shute who was a successful novelist in the 1950’s and he had been a Royal Naval officer in the Second World War who settled, post-war, in Australia. On the Beach featured in its cast: Gregory Peck, a very fine actor, Ava Gardner, the former Mrs Frank Sinatra, once the most beautiful woman in the world, Fred Astaire, without Ginger and Anthony Perkins, later to achieve fame in Physco.
The story was about a world after a nuclear war, when Australia was the last habitable part of the earth, for the time being. In the sixties, films and books about the earth after nuclear destruction were very popular, in the same way that human life was later threatened by Aids, bird flu, the decline of the bumble bee and Brexit. We survived all of these things.
The thing that changed my life was the depiction of life on Australian beaches. Yes, I declared to myself, I’d like a slice of that. A process started in the cinema which would lead to my becoming a ten pound Pom some five years later. I was a resident of Australia from 1965 until 1977. At that time it was common for newcomers to be asked ‘What do you think of Australia?’ I don’t know if they still do that. Ava Gardner, soon after getting off the plane, was asked this question and she replied, rather sharply, ‘I couldn’t think of a better place to make a film about the end of the world.’ Boom boom!!
Later, in the 1980’s in Kensington, in London, my wife and I saw Ava, her beauty gone, shuffling along, lost in a world of dementia.
Prior to our living in Australia, my experiences with beaches had not been totally blissful. Mum and Dad had tried, in the post war years, to take their brood away for a week’s holiday every year, normally to the ‘seaside.’ These holidays were always in Ireland, both Northern Ireland and what was then called the Irish Free State, before they grew up. We must have gone in the sea because I remember wearing horrible knitted swim trunks, which filled with sand and fell to your knees if you were not careful. Swimming in the Irish Sea, the Atlantic Ocean or Strangford Lough has little to commend it.
The overriding memories of these holidays was travelling by train with huge anticipation as the smoke billowed and we all used spittle wetted handkerchiefs to remove soot from our eyes.
When I was about sixteen, on my new Raleigh bicycle, with drop handlebars and three speed gears, I rode with my mates to Bangor, a pleasant County Down resort about 20 miles from Belfast. It was a hot day and we were steaming when we arrived on the beach. We stripped immediately and plunged into an inviting blue sea. We plunged out just as quickly. I have never felt so cold and I was certain my chances of ever being a father had gone forever. It was the last time I have ventured into waters around the Emerald Isle.
Not long after getting married my wife and I had our first holiday in a chalet in a holiday camp on the Isle of Wight. The beach was fine and I managed to get sunstroke. My visions of lying on my sickbed having my brow stroked did not eventuate as my wife, an East London girl went off to Alum Bay to collect sand and left me to reflect on life.
My memories are of Johnny Mathis singing ‘A Certain smile’ which came, I think, from a film of a book by Francoise Sagan and starred Lesley Caron. There was also a a chart topping instrumental by Percy Faith called ‘A Summer Place’. Does anyone remember any of that or am I befuddled?
Living in Australia and for two years in Malaysia, introduced me to many beaches and I loved it. Well, most of the time. My three year old daughter, Jenny, was kidnapped while walking on the beach with her nanny, the worst time of my life. She was missing for only around five hours before the Police found her. She was unharmed, Thank God. I don’t think my wife ever recovered from that and she has held me responsible ever since.
Working, as I did, in many parts of the world, I became friends with beaches in many places from the magnificent strands along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia to the splendours of Mozambique. I found shells on the beach in Eritrea. These were not the former homes of sea creatures but shells of an explosive nature, some spent, some not. Well, to be fair, the reason I was there was to gauge the shape of my Company after the war with Ethiopia.
I owned a house in France for five years from 2001. It was in Royan and about a mile from la Plage du conch, with half a dozen plages within driving distance. Happy days. Happy days brought to an end by my daughter getting divorced, forcing Daddy to sell la maison Francaise.
At this point I have a confession to make. I still love the beach but I very rarely go in the sea. Being a bit of a pussy cat, I prefer the tranquil water in the hotel pool. As far as I am concerned, at my advanced age, the beach is perfect for lying on a sun bed and watching the beautiful young ladies strolling around. It is also a perfect place to stand up, stretch and walk 100 yards, or less to buy a beer or a glass of wine and then watch the girls strolling around. By the way, I have long since binned the knitted woollen swimming trunks.
Written by BM